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Gov. Bill Lee declares state of emergency in Tennessee amid coronavirus response

The governor said the move will allow federal emergency funds to flow into the state to help mitigate and treat the disease.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has declared a state of emergency in Tennessee to combat the spread of coronavirus in the state.

The Tennessee Department of Health said Thursday the state now has 18 COVID-19 cases confirmed, including the first one in Knox County. TDH confirmed two of those patients were hospitalized on Thursday.

The governor said the emergency declaration will allow federal emergency funds to flow into the state to help mitigate and respond to the disease. 

"We know this is serious. We also know this is especially serious for neighbors who are elderly. This is why we should all take this seriously even if you are not in the vulnerable population," Gov. Lee said.

People who are part of a vulnerable population should stay home where possible and avoid large gatherings or locations where they are more likely to contact the virus.

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Vulnerable populations include older adults and those with immune and respiratory diseases. Gov. Lee encouraged Tennesseans to avoid non-essential visits to nursing homes and hospitals. 

The State of Emergency will make it easier to facilitate the treatment and containment of COVID-19. Here is what it does:

•    Implements the Tennessee Emergency Management Plan;

•    Permits health care professionals licensed in other states to provide health care services in Tennessee related to COVID-19;

•    Allows pharmacists to dispense an extra 30-day supply of maintenance prescriptions as needed in response to COVID-19;

•    Allows health care professionals to provide localized treatment to patients in temporary residences;

•    Expands testing sites for COVID-19;

•    Allows the construction of temporary health care structures in response to COVID-19;

•    Implements price-gouging protections on medical and emergency supplies;

•    Suspends restrictions on vehicles transporting emergency supplies to areas affected by COVID-19;

•    Permits the waiver of certain regulations on childcare centers as needed to respond to the effect of COVID-19;

•    Authorizes TennCare policy changes to ensure that covered individuals receive medically necessary services without disruption; and

•    Directs coordination with health insurance plans to improve access to screening, testing, and treatment for COVID-19.

The Tennessee Department of Health said it has enough kits to test 500 people currently. As spring break arrives for many families, the department talked about 'flattening the curve' through social distancing -- which is limiting contact with other people and not attending large gatherings. 

In a statement, Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) asked all non-essential groups, events and activities at the Cordell Hull Building and Capitol to reschedule or postpone visits.

“The General Assembly is encouraging groups who have planned non-essential events and activities in and around the Cordell Hull Building and Capitol to consider rescheduling or postponing. We will continue with the business for which we have been elected and for which we are constitutionally bound. But we will do so with extreme caution and in the public health’s best interest. We will continue to monitor the spread of the virus and keep in consultation with Governor Lee and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Our website will remain online and meetings will continue to be streamed and televised. The people of Tennessee will still have access to the work they have elected us to do. We will continue to take additional action as needed.”

By limiting potential exposure to the disease, experts say it will slow its spread -- preventing a scenario where health care systems would become overburdened with too many patients, and ensuring hospitals can provide the best care to save lives.

Nationally, there have been a number of large events to cancel with social distancing in mind to prevent the spread of the diseases. The NBA announced it was suspending the rest of the season

►Related: Why 'Social Distancing' and Self-Quarantine Measures Save Lives During Coronavirus Outbreak

The TDH said the overall risk to the public remains low as COVID-19 is not currently widespread in Tennessee or the United States.

The state said it has completed 68 COVID-19 tests, and 61 of them have come back negative so far. Two commercial or private lab tests came back positive.

The TDH said it will now post COVID-19 updates online at 2 p.m. each day at this link.

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